If you're interested in riding through undisturbed forests, long stretches of bays and beaches and you don't like crowds, this new byway through Florida is for you.
The newly designated Big Bend National Scenic Byway in Florida passes through four counties, three state parks, a National Forest, and a National Wildlife Refuge. You will ride through little coastal fishing villages, past two old lighthouses and over nearly ten miles of bridges. You will pass miles of Longleaf pine forests and fields of wild flowers. You can even see roadside bogs full of carnivorous Pitcher Plants. If you're hungry or thirsty, there are plenty of interesting and offbeat places to eat and drink or just sit and admire the view.
Not much has been publicized about this new Scenic Byway, as it was just officially designated in March of 2007. The National Scenic Byway program was created in 1991 and there are now almost 100 roads in the US that bear this designation. It stretches over 220 miles and except for Apalachicola, you won't ride through a single town of more than a few hundred people. This is a part of Florida that is relatively undeveloped and still looks much like it did before 15 million people moved here.
The roads along the coast are full of sweeping turns and the forest roads are mostly long and straight. Don't be tempted to speed through this ride; there's just too much to see. You could easily ride the Byway in a day, but why hurry? There are plenty of places to stay in Tallahassee and along the coast. Make this an overnight ride and enjoy the laid back atmosphere of this sleepy part of the Gulf Coast.
This ride is basically a big loop, followed by about an eighty-mile ride to a dead end. (You can, of course, ride past the official end of the Byway, but that's a trip for another time.) For simplicity's sake, we'll start this ride in Franklin County, at the intersection of US 98 and US 319, on the west side of the Ochlockonee River. Ride north on 319 across the Sopchoppy and Ochlockonee Rivers to the little town of Sopchoppy.
If you ride through in April, you'll get to see the annual Worm Grunting Festival. For the uninitiated, worm grunting is the art of coaxing earthworms out of the ground by irritating them with sound. The grunter takes a wooden stake, or staub, and drives it into the ground. He then rubs a long piece of steel, usually an old leaf spring, across the top of the staub to produce a vibration that apparently drives worms nuts. They crawl out of the ground and are gathered up and sold as bait. The worms are very cooperative. I'm not making this up.
From Sopchoppy, ride north on 375, along the eastern side of the Ochlockonee River, through the Apalachicola National Forest. To the east is Bradwell Bay, a designated wilderness area. Highway 375 is a narrow, curving road though some fairly dense forest and over several small creeks. Look out for deer! They can be plentiful along this road. Several years ago I was riding this road with some friends and a herd of ten or so deer crossed the highway a few hundred yards ahead of us. It wasn't even a close call but it made us think about how many large critters can be encountered on this road.
When you get to State Road 20, ride east toward Tallahassee. Just to your north lies Lake Talquin, a large impounded lake that is famous for it's excellent bass fishing. Look for signs pointing out boat ramps and take a short ride down to the lake. Lake Talquin has plenty of landings and fish camps. Get some boiled peanuts and relax under a good shade tree.
Stay on 20 until you get to the city limits of Tallahassee, then turn south on Capital Circle, or 263. Stay on 263 and ride past the airport and turn southwest on Springhill Road, or County Road 2203. This turn takes you back into the Apalachicola National Forest and has a few interesting curves. (The term "twisties" does not really apply to any part of this ride. This is Florida and the best you can hope for is some nice sweeping turns) Stay on 2203 until you get to 267, or Bloxham Cutoff, then turn left.
Ride down 267 for 6 or 7 miles until you get to the first mandatory stop on this ride: Wakulla Springs State Park.
Wakulla Springs is among the largest and deepest springs in the world. Millions of gallons of crystal clear water flows up from the main springs and down the Wakulla River. The State park protects the first few miles of the river and it is an unspoiled jewel. No boats of any kind, except for excursion boats run by the park, are allowed on the river.
It's a jungle full of alligators, wading birds, turtles, eagles and ducks. Century old cypress trees line the banks. It's also a popular swimming hole, if you can handle the ice-cold water. The park has an old lodge, built in the thirties, with simple rooms without televisions. There's also an excellent restaurant.
Say hello to Old Joe while you're there. Joe is a giant stuffed alligator that resides in a glass case in the lobby. He lived at the springs for many years until he was assassinated in the 60's and there's still a reward out for his killers. Or take a boat ride and see dozens of live alligators. The old horror film "The Creature from the Black Lagoon" was filmed at Wakulla Springs. Every year the park shows the movie outdoors and invites any original cast members that are still alive.
Great ride & pics, took this ride in jan., 2012. Thanks for the info!!
Sun May 26, 2013 at 10:17 AM
Thanks for sharing your ride through Florida. Im from NC and have always wanted to ride through Florida to the Keys. Maybe planning a trip soon. Great pics. I ride a Road* Silverado also =)
Fri Aug 26, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I'm so blessed to live in this area of the world!!! These pictures are great, too bad you missed so much more.. lol.. North Florida has history, lots of local entertainment and nice cold beer and oysters!!
Fri May 23, 2008 at 9:40 AM
Real nice article! I've lived in this area for most of my life and driven these same roads in car & truck many times. I need to get my bike out and ride this Route.
Thu May 15, 2008 at 11:40 AM
Damned nice article, RoadStar. Sounds like we share the same tastes in riding, unspoiled scenery, small towns that haven't changed in eons, and hole-in-the=wall watering holes. I definitely plan to hit this route in the future. Thanks.
Wed Aug 22, 2007 at 9:02 AM
We really enjoyed reading about Florida's Big Bend Scenic byway. We especially like the inclusion of information on wildlife viewing opportunities and the history of that part of Florida. We look forward to reading about more road trips you've taken.
Thu May 17, 2007 at 12:59 PM